Friday, March 30, 2007

Art's Method: the great chef metaphor

Much of the beginning poetry I hear seems to be narrative, and much of it is quite literal, a record of the writer's feelings - writing as a form of autobiographic sorting.

At its best, this can be transformative writing that reveals to us our common human condition and creates meaning for both the writer and the reader. At its worst, this intention can result in a sort of emotive belch that relieves the writer but leaves everyone else staring at the floor. The difference lies in the writer’s breadth of exposure to good writing and good poetry.

A great chef, (to use an extended metaphor for a great writer) doesn’t fall out of the womb with a souffle pan in hand. A great chef doesn’t only cook - but loves to eat, to taste and smell the subtle aspects of various dishes, finds romance in flavor and texture and in discovering the potentials of an ever reaching list of ingredients. A chef in training would sample a variety of cuisine - French fare, Italian, Arabic, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese as well as American dishes. By learning the range of possible flavors, and how they are traditionally combined, and by making great experiment to combine them in new ways, he would would build his own palette, and his own colorful works of culinary art. (Another metaphor!)

Even so, a writer, like a chef. must sample the range of available styles, forms and themes by - READING - in order to develop a broad-based sense of language, and to evolve his own style .

When I ask a want-to-be poet or writer what they are reading, what are their favorite books, poets, essayists, topics - and in reply I get a blank look and a shrug, I draw conclusions.

One last question: if our hypothetical chef had only ever eaten at McDonalds - what do you think he would cook?
- Mar  Walker